"Hey Flash, you up yet man

A/N: This is an alternate reality story, and it may turn into an epic or end here depending on the reactions I get. I'm not going to go into a big explanation on the background since you can find most of what you need in the story. Harry and all of the recognizable places and names belong to JKR, yadda yadda. And for the few of you who may have reviewed So It Begins and asked about a sequel, I am gathering my ideas on it but I will be posting a few new stories before returning to that one. But don't fret, I won't abandon it all together, especially after all of you wonderful people said some wonderful things. OK, sorry for the long Author's Note, here's the story. Enjoy and review!

"Hey Flash, you up yet man?" Harry had thought that the dull pounding he had been listening to for the last five minutes was the bass filtered through the foot of concrete separating him from the Human Zit that lived next door. Either that or a result of whatever he drank last night.

"Yeah, give me minute," he groaned in response, turning to see what was pinning his arm to the flimsy dorm mattress, and then trying to remember her name. Must be a waitress, she'd not his type. Waitress at Bennigan's, according to the half-empty book of matches on the bedside table. Lana. That's right. From Victorian British Lit. She had given all of his friends illegal drinks. If I were back in England, I wouldn't bloody need to be prying this girl off me. Of course, that thought didn't linger for long in Harry's mind. Even being faced with a pair of mascara-caked blurry eyes devoid of recognition was better than the life he had left behind him, in England.

"What time is it?" Lana moaned as she stretched her limbs, the grace of a cat decidedly absent. Definitely not his type.

"One, almost," Harry answered, pulling on his boxers as he got out of bed and crossed over to the window, gingerly stepping around the clothes and pizza boxes that his roommate Andy considered the staples of interior design. Lana moaned again as Harry pulled open the blinds, revealing the perpetually blue sky of February in Logan, Massachusetts.

"Where're you going?" she yawned, hand shielding her eyes as she squinted at the intimate stranger rustling through his closet, searching for his left shoe.

"I've got a project to work on," he answered, settling on a lefty from another pair. They are both Converse, who cares if they don't match? "You can stay and go back to bed if you want," he continued, shoving his wallet in the back pocket of his blue jeans and struggling to open the heavy oak door.

"Wait, um-"

"Harry."

"I know. When will I-"

"I'll call you," he answered, knowing that she knew it was a lie and wondering why that never bothered him any more. "Help yourself to whatever's in the fridge," he added, just before walking out.

"Took you long enough," greeted Andy, who was slouched against the opposite wall.

"Hey, these things require a bit of diplomacy," Harry smirked as they made their way down the stairs, deciding that their mission was too vital to risk being stuck for hours in the Hell-evator.

"I just scream and run away," Andy laughed, jumping down five steps at a time per usual.

"Explains why you never have second dates," Harry answered, not wanting to spell out the usefulness of having a girl that can get you drinks in a rather strict college town. "Did you get my mail like I asked?" he continued, after apologizing to the girl Andy had nearly trampled while rounding the third floor curve.

"Yeah, here's the key. And you got one of those fancy parchment deals again," Andy answered, handing Harry a thick envelope addressed in familiar green script. "Joining some honor society and too embarrassed to tell me?"

"Yeah, right," Harry mumbled, shoving the envelope into his jacket pocket and throwing open the door to the first floor lobby a bit harder than he normally would have. Thankfully, no one was on the other side.

Outside, just beyond the "Stoop Rats" that were forced by college rules and an addiction to nicotine into littering the front steps, a small crowd was gathered, all cheering as Harry and Andy joined their ranks. "We though you'd bailed, Flash," grinned Emma, the rep from the school paper, who was partial to covering the stunts of Manic, an intramural organization dating back to the school's Cold War conception.

Manic was one of the reasons that Harry had chosen Massachusetts and Bulfinch University over all of the other exchange programs that Britain's university system offered. Something about an underground movement dedicated to stupidity was intriguing. Well, it used to be underground, before Emma put Harry's first Manic action on the front page. In his freshman year, Harry had scaled Landis Hall with his bare hands, not even a safety harness to insure that his brains did not end up splattered on the pavement in some daring piece of abstract art. That stunt garnered Harry the respect of Manics everywhere, as well as the nickname Flash. (Someone wanted to call him Spidey, then someone else pointed out that if he should be likened to any super hero it ought to be Flash because of the lightening bolt scar on his forehead.) As Harry remembered all of this, he adjusted the envelope in his pocket, wondering if he wouldn't be better off by just throwing to away. Still, it couldn't hurt to read it, see what she wanted this time. See how she'd try to convince him…

"What's the plan, man?" asked Dan, mercifully saving Harry from his thoughts. "Apart from the usual, I mean."

The "usual" consisted of A) stealing all cones and gates limiting traffic to one way, B) adding either dye or bubble bath to the three campus fountains, and C) gathering tapes from the cameras located in several teacher lounges throughout campus, later to be spliced with shots from the latest novelty porn pics and redistributed to the library, hidden under jackets promoting nature films and history documentaries.

"Let's go to the mall. I've got a friend that'll give us a discount on paint," he answered, leading the pack towards the upperclassmen parking lot.

"For?" prompted Emma, holstering her camera and fishing out the keys to her car.

"We're going to improve all that shitty campus art they put up over the weekend." The group of 17 broke into laughs and discussions about the merit of water-based paints and how many people could squeeze into Dan's new ride.

"I think we should put a giant diaper on the one that looks like a Sumo, over near the child development building," suggested Andy, who hopped into his permanent shotgun seat in Harry's Audi. Harry just smiled, noticing how the other cars all seemed to be waiting for him to lead the way to the mall, as if they needed permission. Or maybe they just hoped that Harry would come up with something better to do on the short drive down. Maybe his night with Lana had thrown him off. Manic's Wednesday rituals were usually more daring than defacing private property. Like last week, bungee jumping from the roof of the football stadium and reprogramming the scoreboard to read "Blow job!" instead of "Touchdown!"

"Hey Andy, which parlor does Vicky work at?" Harry asked, scanning Magnolia's strip plazas for something new.

"Uhh…Capitol Ink, down on Brevard," Andy answered, wiping the nostril prints he had left on the passenger side window and flashing Dan the finger as the Beetle rolled to a stop at the light beside them.

"Let's stop and look," Harry said, pulling into the parking lot and turning to see how many of the other cars had followed. Soon all five were accounted for and the tattoo parlor's lobby was filled to the brim.

"Why don't you get all the names of your conquests, Harry?" suggested Dee. "Maybe then you'd remember their names the morning after."

"Not enough room on his body for that," snickered Andy, pointing out a rather racy drawing to an appreciative Dan.

"Hey, I remembered your name!" Harry defended. "I called you Delia because I though that's what 'D' stood for."

"That's what it does stand for, and you called me Sarah you dumb ass!" Luckily Dee wasn't really mad. None of the Manics Harry had slept with could ever really be mad at him. Sometimes he wished he knew why. A good slap in the face would probably to him some good.

"Hey, Flash, look at this one," Dan said, pointing to one of the frames, where a subtle drawing stood out amongst the flamboyant images of Chinese dragons and American eagles- an ink of a skull, a snake slithering out of its mouth.

"What about it?" Harry asked, trying to deny the strange attraction the thing possessed.

"I don't know, but you should get it," Dan answered, sounding a little too serious to be the boy Harry knew. He was just about to comment on it when someone tapped him on the shoulder. "That's a popular one, you know," said the silky voice, perfectly matching the suit and tie individual before him. Harry was positive that this man didn't belong in a sleazy tattoo parlor, but then, neither did he really.

"Yeah, it's ok," Harry answered, making to move over to his friends that were oohing and ahhing at something closer to the door. But a forceful hand grabbed his forearm before he could go.

"I think that mark would be good for you," whispered the man, eyes gleaming in a way that made Harry swallow hard.

"I'll think about it," Harry answered, sternly freeing himself from the man's grip and practically fleeing the shop, leaving his friends to bustle out after him.

"Nothing you liked?" asked Flik, the Manic tech advisor.

"Nah, that guy in there was freaking me out," Harry answered, tossing his keys up and down and peering into the window of the parlor.

"What guy?" asked Dan, following Harry's gaze.

"That suit I was talking to," Harry answered, wondering where the man had gone.

"You weren't talking to anyone," Emma answered, shooting Andy a nervous glance.

"Ok, what are you holding, Flash, and why haven't you shared?" Andy grinned in mock outrage. Harry had to laugh.

@@@

It was dead at the mall, not unusual for a Wednesday afternoon. Harry walked a few paces behind everyone, trying to memorize the moment. He was going to be leaving Bulfinch come April. He hadn't told anyone yet that his extra summer hours meant an early graduation that meant…Harry had no idea what that meant. He was a lit major, for Christ's sake! What kind of career could that lead to? But shifting his focus back to the food court and wondering what the hell a "family bathroom" was, Harry returned to studying his friends and laughing as Flik skateboarded away from mall security.

After stopping at a pay phone to make sure that Lana was out of his room and then popping into the dollar store for a dozen cans of spray paint and silly string, Harry joined the rest of the crew outside of the pet shop.

"Let's get some rats and set them loose in the cafeteria," suggested Dee as she tapped out a greeting to the Macaw in the window. "Last time they had those funky ones with no hair."

"Nah man, I gotta eat there," Dan whined, knowing it would have been hilarious. "We could get some fish and put them in the fountain?"

"There's feeder crickets for the on-campus rehab center?" someone suggested, sparking a debate over the differences between prank and terrorism.

"Coming, Flash?" Andy asked as the group squeezed into the store, all groaning about the overwhelming stench of dog shit.

"No, I don't do pet stores," Harry answered, trying to make a statement like that sound as smooth as it clearly wasn't.

"Why, 'fraid of the puppies and other warm fuzzies?" Andy teased, pulling Harry into the shop before heading towards the redhead behind the counter. Already committed to the location, Harry shrugged it off and headed back towards the snake terrariums.

"Hey kid, open the cage or I'll bite you," hissed the Black Indigo, thoroughly unimpressive to Harry.

"Big threat considering you'll still be in the cage if I don't open it," Harry answered, turning to look at the slumbering garden snakes across the row.

"Shut the fuck up, man," whined the Indigo. Harry laughed, wondering if that translated for the snake.

"You could try being nice to me," Harry smiled. "I might be looking for a pet."

"Kiss my ass," snorted Indigo, sliding up the glass like he was trying to stand up and fight. Harry would have had a comeback if he hadn't noticed Emma and Flik, staring at him more than usual.

"How'd you do that?" Flik demanded, awe in his voice making Harry smile again.

"Learned it in England." It was the standard line when it came to things of this nature and everyone knew better than to pursue it.

By the end of the shopping trip, Harry had delegated the campus remodeling job to the freshmen Manics and whoever wanted to help and headed back to his dorm room, relieved to see that Lana had left him the beer that was in the mini-fridge. It wasn't until he took off his jacket that Harry remembered. The letter from Hogwarts. Sighing, he set the envelope on the desk and got down on his hands and knees, reaching for the safe box under his bed. There they were, testimonies to his other life. Proof of the road not taken.

Harry could still remember every detail of his eleventh birthday as if it were yesterday. After all, it had been the best birthday of his life at the time, and also the worst. He remembered Hagrid, the man who found him and gave him his first letter. He remembered going to Diagon Alley, buying his books and wand, taking his owl Hedwig back to the Dursley's house on Privet Drive. And remembered saying no, three weeks later. Sending Hedwig with a note saying that he'd be going to Stonewall instead and would you please give Hedwig back to Hagrid? Of course, the decision of a little boy didn't mean anything to this person, this Minerva McGonagall. Thus began the series of letters that Harry now held in his hand. Urgings to reconsider. Requests for a reply, a meeting. Then a new tactic, reporting. Stories about Lily and James Potter, about their world. His world. About Voldemort. And then a letter saying Voldemort had returned to power, something about a Sorcerer's Stone. And then a visit from Albus Dumbledore, excusing Harry from class at Stonewall one afternoon shortly after his second year had begun.

"You know, you could get into very serious trouble for what you've been doing," Dumbledore whispered after a long staring match in Stonewall's deserted library.

"I don't know what you're talking about," lied the twelve-year-old Harry, before he had gotten acquainted with deception. But how could Dumbledore know that Harry had gone back twice to Diagon Alley to buy new textbooks, to train himself?

"I don't understand, Harry," the headmaster continued, unnerving the boy with his omniscient eyes. "If you want to learn, why do you refuse to come to Hogwarts?"

Harry tried to explain. About the Dursleys' anger. About the pressure he didn't want. About wishing he wasn't The Boy Who Lived. Dumbledore had listened patiently, giving Harry a chance. Hoping he'd change his mind. "It's not safe for you, Harry," he continued once Harry was done. "Voldemort has returned and war is coming. Even if you are living as a Muggle, your powers are still there within you, and they are still a threat to him. Please, come to Hogwarts. We can keep you safe."

But Harry refused. He had finally made some friends, with Dudley away at Smeltings, and he wasn't about to give that up to hide from a man that didn't even exist in his world. Dumbledore conceded, knowing it was not his decision to make. So the last wizard Harry had ever seen was the nondescript man with red hair that came to Number Four to put up some security measures.

But every once in a while, a letter would come. Sometimes with news of "the war". Sometimes with a plea for Harry to reconsider. Sometimes with a simple hello. But Harry had read between the lines the last few times and he knew that this letter was no social call. Dumbledore and this McGonagall woman, the good side, were losing. People were frightened. People were dying. And even if Harry had turned his back on that world, he couldn't pretend that he didn't care about what happened to it.

Of course, that was largely due to the fact that he hadn't really turned his back on magic. He wasn't sure how he evaded the Ministry, who must have some rule about not practicing magic until trained to do so. Then again, how many people said no to an acceptance to Hogwarts? So for years after first learning that he was a wizard, Harry had returned to Diagon Alley when given the chance to escape the Dursleys, and he always came home with a handful of books and something new from Gambol and Japes Wizarding Joke Shop. He had even made one final trip to London before departing for the states, exchanging half of what remained of his Gringotts vault into American currency, after picking up a copy of Modern Magical History and the most advanced text on Transfiguration that Emeric Switch had penned. His small library of magical text shrunk down and fit neatly into his footlocker, Harry had left England, giving Vernon Dursley a happy promise never to return to Privet Drive. And he promised himself that he would never return to Diagon Alley.

But the fact remained that he held in his hand what could possibly be an invitation to this other world, maybe even a job offer. He couldn't stay in America forever. He wasn't a citizen. And also, didn't he want to be a real wizard? Why would he have left his account at Gringotts open if he hadn't planned to return, someday? Harry sat on his bed, propping his feet up on the nightstand, and opened the letter, hoping that its very existence meant that Minerva had not given up on him. Hoping that he'd be given a reason to avoid those mascara-caked eyes, those stairs, those Stoop Rats, that man in the tattoo parlor. Hoping that a bad decision nine years ago wouldn't condemn him to a life of ordinary.

Dear Mr. Potter,

We at Hogwarts hope this letter finds you well. Albus Dumbledore sends you warm wishes as your academic career at Bulfinch comes to an end. But we both hope that your academic career in general will live on past graduation. Simply put, I am writing to issue an invitation to come to Hogwarts and participate in an auror-training program meant to bolster our campaign in the war. We have had dark times this year, most notably with the string of casualties that included Rubeus Hagrid, whom you may remember from your childhood. As of this moment, we are holding our own against the Dark Lord. Some are hopeful enough to say that we have a distinct advantage, with the recovery of the stolen Sorcerer's Stone last month by one of our own professors. However both the Headmaster and I believe that there is still the chance for defeat. And despite your lack of formal training, we are asking you to help us now.

Harry, whatever your reasons have been in the past, please do not let them keep you from what you are destined to be. You are a great wizard. Being The Boy Who Lived has nothing to do with it. We hope that you will make the right choice. In the meantime, good luck with your final months before graduation. We will keep in touch.

Yours,

Minerva McGonagall

The right choice. As Harry flicked out the contacts in his eyes and eased under the covers of his bed, he couldn't keep himself from wondering how his life might have turned out if he had gone to Hogwarts, like he was supposed to. Some part of him thought that Voldemort might not have returned at all. That Hagrid would still be alive. But Harry was only a boy then, and what difference could one child make? Of course, he'd never known the difference one choice could make either. In another reality, he could have been casting love charms over some sultry witch, for all he knew. Anything but lying in a cold dorm room, praying that his roommate would stay out all night again just so he could have a minute of privacy, worrying about confessing to his friends that he would be leaving them in two months. But maybe I can take some with me? Manic takes on Britain! Andy will go ballistic in a place like Gambol and Japes. Wait, why does this sound as if I've already decided? Harry continued to think for hours, random littler things, like who was watching Hedwig now that Hagrid was gone, and wondering if this Minerva McGonagall was hot. He thought these things until he fell asleep, lights still on, just like many nights when something in his mind made him afraid to feel the dark. This night, it was the image of a skull, snake slithering out of its mouth, the knowledge that Harry couldn't speak to this snake not at all comforting.

A/N: Sorry, back again. Hope you liked it enough to get down here. I normally don't put in song lyrics, but I thought it was only fair because I got the idea for the story from this song. It's by Dashboard Confessional (semi-local but highly recommended if you can find it). Also explains Chapter title.

The Swiss Army Romance

Sleep with all the lights on. You're not so happy. You're not secure.

And you're dying to look cute in your blue jeans

But you're plastic just like everyone, just like everyone.

And that face you paint is pressed

Impressing most of us as permanent

And I'd like to see you undone.

College night will draw the crowds.

Dorms unload and you're heading out.

Here is your moment to shine.

Making up a history, it's nothing from the life you lead

But man, will they buy all your lines.

Sleep with all the sheets off, bearing your mattress, bearing your soul.

And you're dying to look smooth with your tattoos

But you're searching just like everyone could be anyone.

And those friends you have are the best

Impressing most of us as permanent

And I'd like to see you undone.

Youth's the most unfaithful mistress.

Still we forge ahead to miss her,

Rushing our moment to shine.

Making up a history, it's nothing from the life you lead

But man, will they buy all your lines.

We're not 21 but the sooner we are, the sooner the fun will begin

So get out your fake eyelashes

And fake I.D.'s

And real disasters ensue.

It's cool to take these chances.

It's cool to fake romances

And grow up fast and grow up fast and grow up fast

And grow up fast.